EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an attempt to treat a deadly serious topic light-heartedly.
Today, anxiety is running high about the Amazon Synod.
Author Evelyn Oliver parodies the ‘Amazonian paradigm’ by portraying a well-intentioned modernist ethnologist reporting on his stay among the ‘Almazonian’ tribes. The ethnologist believes that their indigenous values must be imported to save modernity.
Read carefully and you’ll be surprised at what he’s REALLY advocating for — what Oliver posits as the real solution to the spiritual crisis.
Satire by Evelyn Oliver
Veteran presenter Frieda Wolfberger, the hostess of the Berliner Paradigma Show, interviews Ethnology Professor Doctor Günter-Ulrich Zoff on his soon-to-be-released Almazon Report. We thank Berliner Paradigma Channel for their permission to publish Evelyn Oliver’s English translation of the German original transcript.
Frieda Wolfberger: Prof. Zoff, the world thought you were dead until your unexpected return last week from your scientific mission among the Almazon tribes. Your Almazon Report, a 1,970-page-long study originally destined to the scientific community, has become an overnight bestseller with over 1.2 million copies pre-purchased in anticipation of its release tomorrow. Yesterday, Netflix offered their highest bid so far to acquire the rights of your documentary ‘Heart of Brightness – Memories of an Almazon Explorer’.
Prof. Zoff: Excuse me for interrupting. In keeping with our charitable Zeitgeist, I would like to insist that all the royalties will go to the newly-founded Almazon Foundation in support of the Almazonian tribes in their environmental struggle. Also, to all watching us this evening I promise a beautiful surprise at the end of this interview.
Frieda Wolfberger: Thank you Prof. Zoff. Precisely, while our planet is under unprecedented threats, your reappearance pushed forward the Almazonian model as a possible solution. On the other hand, many experts warn against a global extending of the Almazonian paradigm. Your experience is crucial to solve this issue. To start with, how long did you live among the Almazonians?
Prof. Zoff: Six years; that is, two years of our time, since their time-frame is thrice shorter than ours. This is much longer than I had spent with the Māori or even with endocannibalists such as the Yanomani.
Frieda Wolfberger: As an ethnologist and an Abrahamic believer, are you confident that the Almazon values can enrich us, and even save us from decline, as our more optimistic specialists lately claimed?
Prof. Zoff: Undoubtedly, because the Almazon is much more than the Alma Delta with its giant blue trees and its aboriginal tribes. Rather, the Almazon is a way of life transcending natural borders and ethnicity. If we have the courage not to apply our neocolonialist parameters to the Almazon culture, if we are humble enough to set aside the prism of our alleged superiority, then the transcendent Almazon will enrich us, will nurture us and it might even – I dare utter the word – save us.
Frieda Wolfberger: How would you define this transcendent Almazon?
Prof. Zoff: Clearly, it is all about the Alma. In her the unity of the tribes rests, and of the land. All the sixty-two Almazonian tribes invoke the Alma as their Mother and wish to spend their lives under her constant guidance and protection. Anyone who shares their belief becomes an Almazonian, even though they may never set foot on the blue delta. Etymologically, ‘Alma-zon’ means ‘Pristine-Land’, or more elaborately, ‘The-Virgin’s-Domain’.
Frieda Wolfberger: Is the Alma an avatar of Gaia, then, the primal Mother Earth goddess?
Prof. Zoff: This is the theory of my eminent colleague Prof. Shardin. What if the opposite were true, though? Might Gaia not be a degraded depiction of the original Alma? The natives insist that the Alma is not God, only his Mother. The Almazon anthem makes it clear. Let me translate it for you: ‘Loving mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea, assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again. To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator, yet remained a virgin after as before. You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting, have pity on us poor sinners.’
Frieda Wolfberger: It surely sounds a very primitive mythology, but not one without some power of evocation.
Prof. Zoff: I agree. It is part of their worship and I must admit that hearing Almazonian males in particular singing the solemn tone of the anthem at night is inspiring.
Frieda Wolfberger: They don’t carry torches, I hope? Here in Berlin, torchlight processions of jack-booted thugs singing anthems under linden trees evoke uncomfortable memories. How embarrassing if some of my fellow-Germans who moved to the Southern hemisphere in the mid-1940s had contaminated the natives with their less attractive customs.
Prof. Zoff: You may tranquilize yourself. Almazonians hunt for sustenance but they are peaceful people, albeit principled ones. If innocent blood was ever shed it was theirs, when other tribes sacrificed them to their rival gods. As to the anthem, men and women of all ages sing it, with no need for torches under the fluorescent blue leaves of the giant trees. In addition, they walk barefoot.
Frieda Wolfberger: How reassuring! Now I feel relieved. Back to our main interest: above the Alma, is there space in the Almazonian pantheon for any gods?
Prof. Zoff: Yes, the Alma facilitates the encounter with God. Unlike us, the Almazonians think that God is a person radically distinct from the world. When they give praise for the beauty of the blue trees so characteristic of their region, and of course for the powerful Alma River and its wide-spreading delta, they refer everything to God whose splendour is mirrored – they think – in his creation, like a message of beauty to men. As you can see, their Weltanschauung is very archaic, but fascinating. They have retained the wisdom of ages.
Frieda Wolfberger: Can you tell us more about their beliefs? Is it true that Almazonians sin; that they love, and even die?
Prof. Zoff: Absolutely. Some of my colleagues unscientifically call them childish and obtuse. I prefer to define them as literalist and binary. When a statement of faith is professed, they understand it literally and reject the opposite proposition, uttering the ritual safeguarding-prayer named ‘anathemasit’. For instance, they are convinced that humans are either in the grace of God, or not. Losing God’s grace can only happen with full will and knowledge. It is the worst possible calamity for an Almazonian. To recover God’s grace, they take the ‘sacrament of confession’ most seriously and receive it sometimes every month, or more.
Frieda Wolfberger: How utterly peculiar! And what about the ‘Eucharist’ mentioned in the abstract of your Report?
Prof. Zoff: Now, this is even more important to them than the Alma. I must warn you that what I am about to reveal is impossible for us to comprehend. In a word, they think the bread and wine are God. By that, they mean that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol, but literally God under the externals of edible matter. Logically, they treat the Eucharist with a luxury of precautions and a level of reverence which would stun us.
Frieda Wolfberger: Do Almazon people pray with their bodies, or is prayer a purely mental activity, as for us Abrahamic believers?
Prof. Zoff: Almazonians consider their bodies as the irreplaceable shrines of their immortal souls. Thus, prayer is facilitated through the power-posture, whereby the legs are flexed half way behind, the feet resting on the floor to provide balance, and the thighs and bust upright, preferably with each hand’s five digits touching those on the opposite hand. Let me show you: there, you see, I lower myself slowly, which is meant as an acknowledgement of God’s greatness, while my hands meet to express the loving surrender of my active capacity as into God’s own hands. The word they use for this awkward posture is ‘genuflexio’ or ‘deprecatio’ (depending whether the digits are joined or not). The power-posture requires highly flexible limbs. Because I was stiff, being past fifty, it took me several months to master it; but I felt that losing my rigidity was liberating, albeit painful. Once the body is devoutly positioned, the natives believe that the soul is capable of religious interaction.
Frieda Wolfberger: Do Almazonian rituals involve sacred depictions, tattoos, piercings, masks, fetishes or feathers?
Prof. Zoff: Very much so. Many of them wear ‘miraculous’ medals, ‘scapulars’ and ‘rosary beads’ such as these [cameraman zooms in on hand]. They lose their power if exchanged for money, sadly; otherwise I could have auctioned them to support the Foundation. Almazonians also sprinkle a lot of ‘holy water’ as I am doing now around the studio. The only feathers I noticed are ostrich ones, set as ceremonial fans carried on poles on either side of the ‘sediagestatoria’ – a portable throne kept for when their Great Helmsman might visit next. Tattoos and piercings are frowned upon as mutilations, but Almazonians are particularly fond of ‘relics’.
Frieda Wolfberger: ‘Relics’? This must be shamanism. Are those some magic artefacts or amulets?
Prof. Zoff: Relics are fragments of bones or teeth, or simply pieces of clothes or jewels, all of which must have belonged to dead saints. If one has faith, physical contact with relics is considered extremely beneficial for one’s soul. One must never eat relics though, only touch them with deep reverence and with faith in God whose grace sanctified the saints and grants assistance through their remains.
Frieda Wolfberger: Prof. Zoff, so far you have not mentioned ‘priests’. Priests were an expected feature in archaic Christianity, before the Abrahamic merging. On the contrary, ordinary Almazonians seem to be religiously active, which sounds surprisingly educated. Is there no Almazonian clergy then?
Prof. Zoff: Of course, there is one. I describe it at length in Chapter 9 of my Report. As you might guess, their priests are male only, celibate and cannot hunt. They wear a distinctive habit in all circumstances, even when travelling on pirogues to visit their flock. The faithful hold them in deep esteem, sometimes kissing their hands. I first assumed that it was yet another case of superstitious sacralisation, whereby primitive worshippers obsessed with their own imaginary guilt project onto a specific group the holiness they feel unworthy of claiming for themselves.
Frieda Wolfberger: And, was your intuition confirmed?
Prof. Zoff: Disappointingly not. But we scientists must have the courage to adjust our hypotheses to facts. So, Almazonians don’t think their priests are gods, not even saints as if by magic. They know that priests can fall morally, as the laity do. The prison-monastery amidst the great river bears witness to this, although its inmates are few. But Almazonians strongly believe that through the ‘sacrament of Holy Orders,’ such fallible men are ontologically configured to the divine High Priest. Almazonian priests receive divine powers – for instance, to absolve from sin and change bread into God – which remain with them even if they sin; even after death. Foreign as this sounds to us Abrahamians, I am scientifically confident that this Almazonian priesthood could benefit other parts of the world.
Frieda Wolfberger: Prof. Zoff, I am glad that you don’t mind addressing this burning issue. Many see it as divis…
Prof. Zoff: Sorry for interrupting, but I know your objections! As celibates, such priests will not be able to assist married people and families. As abstinent, they will be prone to illicit compensations. As sacral, they will be disconnected from the secular routine of the community. Why do I know your objections so well? Very plainly, because they were mine before I went there.
Frieda Wolfberger: Really? And what on earth did make you change your mind then?
Prof. Zoff: For us ethnologists, there is such a thing as experimental data. Those I gathered from Almazonian polls, as well as through personal observation of the tribes, and through one-to-one conversations with native clergy and laity, all displayed the recurrent behavioural pattern of rational trust in priests. As a non-Almazonian, I was vexed by that finding. As a scientist, though, I had no choice but to admit the conclusion that the Almazonian clergy is the safest socio-professional category in the population, and thus is a major contributor to the welfare of the community.
Frieda Wolfberger: This is a very daring statement! It contradicts the accepted narrative. But surely our audience must have had enough of clerical considerations. Could you now describe for us marriage and family life in the Almazon?
Prof. Zoff: With pleasure. Over there, either lay people are married, hence not available for any other partners; or they are single and thus available for courtship. Candidly unaware of gender fluidity, Almazonians identify as males or females according to innate bodily characteristics. Almazonian marriage is another ‘sacrament’. The bond of fidelity between the husband and wife lasts as long as both live, even though they may sometimes separate. In any case, adolescents soon become masters of their sexual impulses rather than subjects to them. Actually (if I can share a personal memory), as a foreigner I dreaded their initiation rite called ‘beatimundocorde’, which I subjectively translated as ‘lust-deprivation’. Immodesty of any kind is currently marginal in the blue delta, as is prostitution. All this makes life much more peaceful for single people and for families, and in turn benefits the entire Almazonian community. Societal indicators such as isolation, violence, legal costs, teenage pregnancy, addictions, and youth suicide over there are abysmally low compared with here. One must bear in mind that in the Almazon, marriage is mostly ordered to conceiving and raising children as saints. This is why, in addition, sterilisation and contraception, whether artificial or natural – let alone abortion – simply don’t exist in the Almazon.
Frieda Wolfberger: I share your consternation. How absolutely dreadful! Thankfully, your Almazonian Foundation will sponsor adequate formation for the oppressed Almazonian women.
Prof. Zoff: Such was my intention during my first year over there, believe me, when watching those young mums each with three, five, or even ten children. I couldn’t sleep at night, in my hammock, when hearing the babies crying in the neighbouring huts. But I slowly realised that what I diagnosed as oppression was welcomed as freedom and even as an honour by Almazonian women. I asked myself one night: What if I were to take off my western lenses, just to make my experiment more objective?
Frieda Wolfberger: Excuse me Professor, do you mean that you actually distanced yourself from your enlightened frame of mind and embraced this exotic but so utterly primitive one?
Prof. Zoff: Scientific integrity compelled me to do so, I confess. But I don’t regret it, for it was a revelation. I soon understood that the natives live in such symbiosis with the rhythms of the cosmos, with the stars and the moon shining faintly through the thin mist, with the tides on the great river, that parenthood fulfils them instead of crushing them. Towards the end of my stay, I grasped an even deeper ethnic peculiarity. Almazonian women and men welcome children not merely as gifts of nature, but as their ‘procreating’ with God the Creator. They believe that every human person is more precious in God’s eyes than the entire material world, because God Himself, they affirm, is a communion of three loving divine Persons. They accept the trials of childbirth and economical strain for the sake of populating heaven with new worshippers of the deity. If you want the truth, Almazonian spouses look fulfilled to a degree that I have never encountered among our free-lovers back home.
Frieda Wolfberger: No doubt scientists will soon offer a counter-assessment to your excessively optimistic view.
Prof. Zoff: I know it sounds dreadful and I am sorry if I hurt your feelings. Perhaps, my statement needs contextualising. Thus, Almazonians believe in daily interaction not only with their human spouse, children, friends, and colleagues, but also with non-visible persons. First come the Alma and God, of course. In addition, though, the ones they call angels and saints, as well as the ‘holy souls in purgatory’, participate in their existential journeys. They think of them, speak about them, and even ask for their help or offer prayer for the ‘holy souls’. In return, they believe that these persons help them grow in ‘holiness’, that is, in the existential fulfilment specific to rational beings.
Frieda Wolfberger: ‘Holiness’? Did you just say ‘holiness’? Well, looking at my watch, Prof. Zoff, I see that we have taken already too much of your precious time and we really must conclude this interview. As its hostess, may I be frank with you, without meaning to be rude? The Almazonian society you expertly described for us sounds to me oppressive, archaic, and threatening.
Prof. Zoff: You do suddenly sound less impartial. (By the way, is this still being filmed?)
Frieda Wolfberger: I am deeply upset, Prof. Zoff! Our century achieved Abrahamism, the happy fusion of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. But the Almazon appears as a blatant regression from this stage of global religious development. Furthermore, in case this has escaped your sagacity, Professor, over the past two years while you were away in the Almazon, Abrahamism started merging with Orientalism – itself the beautiful outcome of the fusion, thirty years ago, of Buddhism, Shintoism, and Hinduism, as you would remember. In other words, while all peoples of good will are working towards post-Abrahamism, hailed as the final religious stage and the only antidote to spiritual decline, Almazonians embody a culpably obsolete stage of pre-Abrahamism. To quote your very words, Almazonians don’t value evolution; they impede fluidity and neglect to improve this earth. Speaking for myself, in this critical year 2084, I fail to see how their paradigm could save us from spiritual decline. It can only accelerate it.
Prof. Zoff: Frieda Wolfberger, you speak of a ‘paradigm’, but Almazonians claim none. They don’t know what it means. All that matters to them is entering heaven to see God after a holy death, bringing with them as many fellow humans as possible. Any change is good to them if it helps reach that goal, bad if it hinders it. We on the contrary tend to value change for itself, as a proof of vitality. They believe that God is life, and that God does not change. The closer they come to God, the more alive they are. Mercifully, God has revealed himself to them, in his Son who affirmed and proved that he is greater even than Abraham. His name is Jesus, who communicates himself to all men of good will through the community he founded – they call it ‘Holy-Church’ – within which alone salvation is offered. Naturally, I am merely quoting the Almazon creed, for the sake of scientific accuracy.
Frieda Wolfberger: Prof. Zoff, your Almazonian discovery puzzles me, because I personally find it divisive, but our audience loves it. I glanced on my screen at the social networks while listening to your reply. Your rate of approval is vertiginous, especially among the younger generations. As we speak, your hashtag #lovealmazon is spreading like wildfire on most platforms.
Prof. Zoff: I thank everybody for their scientific interest!
Frieda Wolfberger: However, this will not last. The youths are taking to the Almazon as if it were the latest religious fad. But when they realise how deplorably ancient it really is, they will drop it and move on towards our bright post-Abrahamic unity, have no fear. Let they trust in my sixty-five years of broadcast experience. Meanwhile, to all responsible leaders watching us, I recommend containing the Almazon immediately. Building a wall is the obvious first step, possibly with an Almazonian theme park along it for our educated populations to visit, as a cultural vaccination against archaicism.
Prof. Zoff: Dear Frieda, I must inform you that it is too late. I feared such unfriendliness and, for the spiritual survival of our modern age… Now, this is the beautiful surprise I promised earlier. Before coming back to Europe, I helped Almazonian families and clergy spread far beyond the blue delta. They have started making friends outside the Almazon; some young adults are even getting married abroad. Since my return I have received touching testimonies from Abrahamians telling their joy: for years they had felt weary, spiritually unfulfilled, and concerned about their shrinking numbers. Then, when learning about the Almazon, they discovered that it met their deepest aspirations. By now Almazonians are everywhere; even in this room. The Almazon is spreading.
Frieda Wolfberger: Metastasizing, you mean! How revolting! This is nearly a coup! Günter-Ulrich Zoff, you will answer before modernity for this betrayal of our paradigm. But your efforts are in vain, since you inadvertently told us how to identify your Almazonians.
Prof. Zoff: Indeed? I wonder how…
Frieda Wolfberger: We will watch out, be sure, for any ostrich feathers!
Evelyn Oliver is author of “The Egyptian Guide”, go here to read the preface and the first 2 chapters.
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